Mizoram election: High voter turnout sets stage for close contest

The State is witnessing a three-cornered contest between the ruling MNF, opposition Congress, and ZPM, with BJP hoping to become kingmaker.

Published : Nov 08, 2023 18:05 IST - 6 MINS READ

First-time voters after casting their votes in Aizawl North-2 constituency during the Mizoram Assembly elections in Aizawl, Mizoram on November 7, 2023.

First-time voters after casting their votes in Aizawl North-2 constituency during the Mizoram Assembly elections in Aizawl, Mizoram on November 7, 2023. | Photo Credit: RITU RAJ KONWAR / The Hindu

Mizoram has witnessed an enthusiastic and high voter turnout of 80.43 per cent in the election for the 40-member State Assembly. This estimate, as provided by the Chief Electoral Officer of Mizoram, is provisional. To put this in perspective, in 2018, the voter turnout was 80.03 per cent.

The State witnessed a predominantly three-cornered contest among the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF), the opposition Congress, and the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM). In some constituencies, the contest expanded to a four-cornered one, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) making efforts to win over voters by promising more central funds for Mizoram if they could gain a share of the power.

Incumbent Chief Minister Zoramthanga expressed confidence that the impact of the Manipur clashes and the Zo unification election plank would help his party, the ruling MNF, retain power for a consecutive term. Under Zoramthanga’s leadership, the MNF government provided shelter to around 35,000 Chin refugees from Myanmar, 12,000 people belonging to the Kuki-Zo community who were displaced by violent clashes between Meitei and Kuki groups in Manipur since May 3, and approximately 1,000 Kuki-Chin refugees from Bangladesh. 

Also Read | ZPM emerges as main challenger to ruling MNF in Mizoram election

The MNF hoped that Mizo nationalism, driven by the slogan of unifying all Kuki-Zo and Kuki-Chin areas that are divided across India’s Manipur and Mizoram, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, would overshadow all other issues. The actual impact will only become clear when the votes in Electronic Voting Machines are counted on December 3.

The ZPM is banking on its key promise of a corruption-free government to capture power. In 2018, ZPM won eight seats in the 40-member Mizoram Assembly as a conglomerate of civil society groups. The Election Commission of India recognised it as a political party in 2019. The rise of ZPM has made the election more challenging for both MNF and Congress. In 2018, it eroded the Congress’ votes, which allowed MNF to sweep the election and dethrone the Congress.

The BJP hopes to become the kingmaker. As MNF is a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre, the BJP winning a couple of seats could bolster its position to seek a share of the power. The BJP fielded candidates in 23 seats and hinted at supporting either ZPM or MNF.

During his election campaign in the State, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi referred to both MNF and ZPM as “entry points of RSS and BJP in Mizoram” and urged voters to bring Congress to power.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor expressed confidence that Mizoram could be the first State in the northeast region to bring the party back to power. Mizoram was the last bastion of the Congress in the northeast until 2018 when MNF voted it out after a ten-year hiatus. Congress’ promises focus on social welfare schemes, including subsidising LPG cylinders at Rs 750.

A voter shows her finger marked with indelible ink after casting her vote for Mizoram Assembly elections, in Mamit district, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023.

A voter shows her finger marked with indelible ink after casting her vote for Mizoram Assembly elections, in Mamit district, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI Photo

In the last Assembly elections, MNF won 27 seats and secured 37.70 per cent of the votes. Congress won only four seats and secured 29.98 per cent of the votes, while ZPM won eight seats with a total of 22.4 per cent.

In 2018, the BJP contested 39 seats but won only one seat and secured 8.09 per cent of the votes. Senior MNF leader and Speaker of the Mizoram Assembly, Lalrinliana Sailo, left the ruling party to join the BJP with less than a month to go before the polling. This move increased the BJP’s hopes of increasing its tally this time and becoming the kingmaker.

Sailo primarily cited Mizoram’s financial crisis as the reason for his joining the BJP, stating that the BJP would retain power at the Centre, and no party in Mizoram could form a government without his party’s support.

Out of a total of 8,52,088 voters, 50,751 are in the age group of 18-19 years, and 2,54,677 are in the age group of 20-29 years. The mandate of these 35.84 per cent voters below 30 years will play a pivotal role in determining the final election outcome, which is set to be declared on December 3. On the day of the election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to his X handle to encourage young and first-time voters to exercise their franchise and strengthen the festival of democracy.

ZPM is also counting on young voters to provide an alternative to both Congress and BJP. However, its core ideological position is described as “a regional party with a national outlook,” which keeps the door open for various post-poll possibilities.

While Modi was scheduled to address an election rally on October 30, he did not visit the State to campaign for his party. Chief Minister Zoramthanga announced during an interview with BBC News that he would not share a platform with Modi during his visit to the State for campaigning. This sent a clear message to voters in the Christian-majority State, indicating a commitment to continuing the MNF’s position of not sharing power with the BJP. Even while being part of the NDA and the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the lone BJP legislator was not part of the MNF government. The BJP hopes that a hung house will give it the opportunity to apply its double-engine template to Mizoram ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Zoramthanga also reiterated that MNF’s support to NDA is issue-based.

Community’s model code of conduct 

Mizoram’s election campaign and polling are unique in that the community plays a crucial role in preventing political parties and candidates from using bribes and large rallies to woo voters and incurring massive campaign expenditures. The Mizoram People’s Forum (MPF), a church-backed election watchdog, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with five parties—MNF, Congress, ZPM, BJP, and People’s Conference. 

Also Read | Caste, economy, OBC politics top agenda as five States head for elections in November

This MoU binds the parties and candidates, including independents, to ensure free, clean, and fair elections and to adhere to election expenditure limits set by the Election Commission. The MoU prohibits house-to-house campaigning, sets limits on the number of flags and banners at meeting venues, and bans the serving of tea to voters on the day of the election. 

The MPF organises a common platform for political campaigns by all candidates at specific times and places but prohibits the transportation of party supporters from outside the village/local area to attend these events. MPF volunteers distribute voter slips, not agents of candidates or parties. This practice of parties and MPF signing an MoU on election conduct has been in place in the State since 2008.

As the election unfolds, political parties and candidates are cautiously optimistic, while pollsters hope there will be no surprises that challenge their predictions of a hung Assembly.

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